You have to hand it to Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was the official tea party responder to the president's State of the Union address.
No phony sincerity from her. No moving mention of her colleague lying in a Texas hospital, whose family celebrated that she could actually watch an hour of television. No forced rhetoric about all of us being Americans first, healing our divisions, finding greatness in our collective strength. Nope, not for Bachmann. No platitudes about sitting together and working together and moving forward to try to solve some of the country's problems.
Bachmann went on the attack against President Obama from the first line of her speech, devoting all but the last minute to making the case that he is to blame for the state of the economy. In the wake of Tucson, only one imperative remains: Blame it on Barack.
Bachmann is going to fight the last war until the last cable station turns out the last light. She may not have much to say about solving the country's problems, but she's got plenty to say about who's to blame for them: Obama. You remember when Obama became president -- it was morning in America and then a storm blew in? No? Bachmann has the charts to prove it. Of course, the charts don't show you what went wrong under President Bush or what went right under President Clinton. But why let facts get in the way? The point is to throw mud and assign blame.
Isn't it? Isn't that what most Americans were tuning in to hear from their leaders?
Tell us: Who should we blame? Who can we tag for this? Who is it we should finger for destroying our well-being, our jobs, our lives?
The only thing that was nearly as painful to witness as what happened in Tucson was the way talking heads on both sides literally used it to talk about their favorite subject -- themselves. Enough about Gabby Giffords. Can we get back to talking about Sarah Palin? Or, just give the mike to Bachmann!
I don't know what "the American people" want, and I don't trust anyone who pretends they do. But I do believe there are a whole lot of people in this country who might not agree on much other than that they are sick and tired of the way politics is discussed and done. It's not a left-right issue -- quite the contrary. The far left and the far right have more in common, in terms of their styles of discourse and engagement, than either does with everyone else.
Bachmann was not selected to speak on behalf of the tea party movement for her economic acumen. Her job was not to bring people together. She did not even pretend to outline an alternative economic program.
She was there to be a lightning rod -- not to prevent a fire, but in the hopes of starting one as big as possible, knowing that the rest of us, no matter what we say, will always crane our necks to catch a glimpse of the wreckage.